The striking funeral helm of Robert Gardiner includes elements from his heraldic crest.
The funeral helm of Robert Gardiner of Thorncroft (d.1571), and Sergeant of the Wine Cellar to Queen Elizabeth I.
A transcription of Gardiner’s epitaph by Thomas Churchyard, the Queen’s poet, can be seen on the wall below the helmet.
Robert gardiner of thorncroft
Little is known about the ancestry of Robert Gardiner except that he originally came from Lancashire. We know he was present at the Coronation Banquet of Anne Boleyn at Westminster Hall in 1533. He married Anne, the daughter of Robert Dethick of Greenwich, who was armorer to Henry VIII.
Robert rose through the ranks by seniority from groom to yeoman, and from yeoman to sergeant. The first time we hear of him being referred to as Sergeant of the Wine Cellar is when his crest of a goat’s head out of a coronet was confirmed on 3rd April 1560.
Gardiner leased Thorncroft Manor in Leatherhead sometime around 1545. He went on to purchase further freehold land in the area. Thorncroft stayed in the family for 100 years.
Although during the excavations of 2019, we found no evidence of his burial casket, his desire to be buried at Leatherhead is documented in his will dated 4th February, 1570/1 – “my parish church, in the church before my pew, if it please God to call me to his mercy when I am within thirty miles thereof.”
Plates below the helmet
Three plates are fixed to the east respond beneath the helmet.
The first displays a blazon (coat of arms) with mantling (a piece of ornamental drapery shown flowing from a helmet and surrounding a shield) and helmet engraved into the metal.
The second rectangular plaque has a verse engraved in gothic black letter, which describes the attributes of Robert Gardner’s life. The words were written by the poet to Queen Elizabeth 1.
The third is a small rectangular plaque with a dedication in gothic black letter. Amazingly Sir Robert Gardiner lived to be 83 years old. Infant mortality was high in 16th century. However, if you reached your 12th birthday you could live to be very old.
the thomas churchyard poem
“Here ffryndly Robertt Gardnar lyes,
well borne of ryghtt good race,
Who sarved in corwtt wyth credytt styll,
in worthi rowlm and place;
Cheef Sargantt of the Seller longe,
where he dyd duetty shoe,
Wyth good regard to all degrees,
as ffar as power myghtt goe.
He past hys youth in sutch good ffraem,
he cam to aeged years;
And thearby porchaest honest name,
as by report apeers,
A ffrynd whaer any cawse he ffound,
and corttes un to all.
Off myrry moode and plessantt spetch,
howe ever happ dyd fall
Ffowr chyldern for to ffornysh fforth,
the table rownd ha had.
Wyth sober wyeff, moest matron lyk,
to mak a man ffull glad.
Prepared to dye longe ear his day,
which argues gratt good mynd:
And told us in the other world
whatt hoep he had to ffynd.
We leave hyme whear he loektt to be
our Lord receive hys spreet
Wyth peace and rest in Habram’s brest,
whear we att leynth may meet.”
He departed owte of this transitory worlde
the 7 daye of November Anno dm. 1571
being of the age of Lxxxiii yeres.
Here friendly Robert Gardiner lies,
well born of right good race,
Who served in court with credit still,
in worthy realm and place.
Chief Serjeant of the Cellar long,
where he did duty show,
With regard to all degrees,
as far as power might go,
He passed his youth in such good frame,
he came to aged years;
And thereby purchased honest name,
as by report appears.
A friend, where any cause he found,
and courteous to all;
Of merry mood and pleasant speech,
however hap did fall.
Four children for to furnish forth
the table round he had
With sober wife, most matron like,
to make a man full glad,
Prepared to die long ere his day,
which argues great good mind.
And told us om the other world
what hope he had to find
We leave him where he looked to be;
our Lord receive his spirit,
With peace and rest in Abram’s breast,
where we at length may meet.’
He departed this transitory world
on the tenth day of November A.D. 1571,
being then of the age of 83 years
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